Not only to fly, but to bring the world's eyes...skyward.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Romance and Reality

J. Relay Doggenheimer
Shortly after my early-rising tween son let his Jack Russell Terrier, Relay, outside this morning, he dashed upstairs to wake us with, "This is the best day ever! Relay got his first kill! He got a mole!" A few jarring moments of unsanctioned first-thing-in-the-morning activity later, the dog's prey was identified as not a mole, but a baby rabbit.  Who knew the balance between the Best Day Ever and the Worst Day Ever, it turns out, lay in the arrangement of a few genes on a rodent chromosome that make it become a mole or a rabbit. Yet another pre-morning-coffee debriefing with mini-me ensued.

The romantic in him saw his purebred hunting dog bounding merrily through the hilly countryside, Born Free playing in the background, and vanquishing a common pest his parents despise for the damage it does to our yard. But then reality crashed the party, transforming his mutt into J. Relay Doggenheimer, aka Death, the Destroyer of Rodent Worlds. The sole survivor of Relay's morning raid was a single, helpless baby bunny, for which international law obligates, nee mandates, us to provide reparations of food, shelter, healthcare, and and endless supply of newly-released PS3 games.

I’ve had a few people comment on my catchphrase, “Reality has a heart; Romance has a brain,” and I’ve assumed, perhaps without good cause, that my meaning will be clear, particularly after people read the free chapters I'm posting from A Silver Ring until its July release. Beta readers have seen in it exactly what I hoped to show: a balance between Fate’s magic and Life’s uncooperative chaos that rings true. For those who haven't yet read it, however, this key component of my branding strategy might still need explanation.

Reality has taken over our, well, reality. Nobody seems to care a whit about make-believe anymore. People would seemingly prefer to take a kind of Mythbusters approach to their entertainment, leering into real people’s real (boring) lives, watching them do real (boring) things (or, occasionally, even nothing) and being shown they’re not as fun, exciting, difficult, or rewarding, as one might think. The underlying message seems to be, “See? There’s no such thing as princes, princesses, magic, destiny, or love and, rather than being duped into investing your finite attention in a “fake” story that (OMG!) never really happened, concentrate instead on the mediocrity all around you and be assured that no one else ever does or witnesses anything truly extraordinary, either.”

I don’t get it. Those “realities” aren’t particularly funny, nor inspirational—and rarely even truly sad. They have no real stakes. They have no heart. My reality, and that of everyone I know well, by contrast, does. People get hurt. People are victimized. People die. And yes, occasionally, people win against all odds, like I did after my 1994 plane crash/spinal cord injury. It’s just that when we see it happen through the unflattering lens of a handheld camcorder, sans theme music and pretty actors smiling impossibly white smiles and tossing their hair in slow motion, it loses its romantic punch.

On the other hand, like many writers (cro-magnon “fratire” author Tucker Max being one obvious exception), I consider myself a romantic. A recovering romantic, to be perfectly honest. I say recovering because I consider it a character flaw, a foible, endearing though it may be to most women and the very few men capable of admitting it without fear of sudden-onset-homosexuality. I see it as such because of a long series of heartbreaks I endured as a boy and young man as I very slowly came to "realize" love just doesn’t work like it did in any of the really corny television and movies I probably shouldn’t have been allowed to watch growing up.

While my parents and siblings were out living their post-adolescent lives, circa 1980, I was often found trustworthy to stay home alone, free to torment cats with impunity, set random fires -- and note how no one ever walked down The Love Boat’s gangplank without their heart’s desire on their arm.

My sibs, each my elder by at least six years, all married people who, for all I knew, were only their first or second serious love interests when they were eighteen or twenty years old. My parents married when they were barely twenty. So it seemed entirely plausible to me, as my pituitary gland began to order my first shipments of testosterone, that when I really, truly fell in love with someone, getting from there to the altar was just a matter of learning, then making, all the right moves. Making yourself completely vulnerable (and thus irresistible) by showing a love interest how strongly you felt with words, deeds, and gifts was always step one.

Eh, bebe, voulez-vous coucher avec moi?
Despite having embarked on a love-note writing campaign that could have led to a great career writing for Harlequin, I didn’t get to see those fireworks Peter Brady did when I got my first kiss. I had to live with the fact that a platonic girl friend of mine, who was inside the locked doors of our school one day and knew I was crushing on another girl who “luckily” was out in Ohio’s winter with me and needed to get back inside to get warm, forced my heart’s desire to kiss me to be let back inside. So basically, my first experience of physical intimacy with a woman was an act of prostitution, funded by extortion, and performed under duress. Now, is that not just as precious as pink pajamas? Not exactly what I’m wishing for my son’s first foray into manhood…

I hadn’t yet heard J. Geils’ Band’s Love Stinks, and Queensryche had yet to even form, let alone record I Don’t Believe in Love, but I really could have used those, or even just some self-effacing, maybe even embarrassing truth-in-stalking disclosures from my elders about their experiences with the opposite sex, just for a little reality check. I was in for quite a few rude, which I admit now seem only bittersweet, awakenings. Let’s just say they undoubtedly still know who they were.

I thought I’d finally cracked the code for the first time at age 22, and gladly paid the 2-months’ salary to prove it, but it turned out I’d only signed up to learn an almost unbearable object lesson in the relatively short half-life of physical attraction in the face of crisis. I became an embittered cynic, a turnkey reality-tv fan years ahead of its time, and I stayed that way until I fell in love—the real kind that crisis only tempers—with my wife.

She’s not out of the woods just yet, however. That lonely boy who never once managed to transform a crush into love is still hitch-hiking a dark, empty highway somewhere in her enigmatic, otherwise cocky husband’s mind, kicking the daylights out of a can along the way and swatting at the swarm of question marks buzzing around his head.

So when I inject romance into my writing, I do it with due consideration for that sad character and write with my brain, which, thankfully, did eventually learn to translate for my heart what it could never understand.

Reality has a heart; romance has a brain. To me it means there’s just too much magic in this life for anyone to pretend it never happens, but those of us who've fallen too many times to take even one foot off the ground can’t just write blank check after blank check to people with imaginations as simple and predictable as pixie dust.


  1. I feel for the dog, he was just doing what he thought was right.
    As far as your romance/reality idea...romance has no explanation, but it does have it's uses. Interesting post.

  2. Thanks, Valerie - I agree, romance does have its "uses"...;-)


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